Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Otillia, 42, Red Cross home-based care client in Chivi

Matthew Cochrane, Communications manager

This is the fourth in a series of six profiles, looking at the people affected by Zimbabwe's food crisis.

Otillia, a mother of three young children, lost her husband to AIDS last year. Soon after, she herself began to feel sick and went to get tested. The tests confirmed that she was HIV positive.

"That is when I joined the Red Cross home-based care programme," she says.

We met Otillia on the dusty road near her home in Chivi in rural Masvingo Province. She had been visiting her neighbours to see if they had a cup of sugar to spare so that she could make herself a cup of tea.

Despite her illness and her obvious exhaustion, Otillia does a lot of walking. She explains that she must travel 25 kms to get her anti-retroviral treatment - the drugs that help her body suppress the virus. She also has to walk about four and a half kms to get water.

And all this is done, more often than not, on an empty stomach. Often, Otillia and her young family go without food for the whole day. Sometimes they can go without a meal for three or four days. Even when they do have something to eat it will only be a meagre bowl of boiled vegetables.

Whilst hunger is difficult for her children, it is devastating for Otillia.

"When I take the tablets without a meal, I can't even walk," she explains in her quiet voice. "They really have a negative effect. But still I have to take them everyday."

The family used to have a small vegetable garden. But Otillia's illness, combined with a lack of water and seeds, has seen this patch wither and die. The family also once owned some chickens and goats, but these were sold to try and find money for medical treatment.

So the family now relies on support from neighbours and Red Cross volunteers. Everyone is willing to share what they have with the family. But the truth of the matter is that there isn't much food for anyone. It's increasingly rare nowadays that anyone has enough to be able to help Otillia and her kids.

The IFRC Zimbabwe food security appeal aims to provide assistance to about 260,100 people over the coming nine months. The programme will focus on supporting people like Otillia and her children - a group particularly and acutely vulnerable to food shortages.